October 7, 2011

Atlantic Hockey Journal: RIT, Air Force head list of hopefuls

By Allen Lessels

Let’s get it started. 

UConn goalie Garrett Bartus (photo: UConn)

UConn goalie Garrett Bartus (photo: UConn)

Niagara traveled to Ann Arbor and dropped a 5-2 decision to the always tough University of Michigan on Tuesday night. Bentley makes the same trip this weekend to take its shots at the Wolverines on Friday and Saturday nights.

And the 2011-12 season is on.

Once again, as they have for half a decade, Atlantic Hockey teams will try their best to derail the league powerhouses, RIT and Air Force.

The two -- by turn -- have dominated both the league regular season and league tournaments for the last five years.

RIT has won four of the last five regular-season championships. Air Force has captured four of the five tournament titles and the spots in the NCAA tournament that go along with them.

Each team has made noise in the NCAA tournament as well.

Last year, Air Force lost to Yale, 2-1 in overtime, in the first round of the tournament. The year before, RIT took down Denver and UNH, and became the first Atlantic Hockey team to ever advance to the Frozen Four.

In 2009, Air Force beat Michigan in the first round of the NCAAs and lost to Vermont, 3-2 in double overtime, one win shy of the Frozen Four.

There’s nothing to indicate that it will be any easier to knock the teams from Rochester and Colorado Springs off their pedestals this season.

The Tigers and Falcons each lost a couple of high-scoring forwards off last year’s teams, but they likewise each return a talented and solid group on defense in front of a netminder who is coming off an impressive season.

Consider this: RIT’s Shane Madolora, now starting his final season, led the nation with a .935 save percentage and had a 1.93 goals-against average for a record of 17-3-7; and Air Force goalie Jason Torf got the best of Madolora and the Tigers in the tournament championship game. Madolora gave up only one goal -- but Torf allowed none, and he and the Falcons posted a 1-0 win and were headed to the NCAA tournament once more.

Coach Wayne Wilson’s Tigers were picked No. 1 in the league’s preseason poll and Frank Serratore’s Falcons were right behind.
Serratore joked about the picks at Atlantic Hockey media day.

“One thing RIT doesn’t lack is confidence,” he said with a laugh. “I wish we’d pick someone else No. 1.”

RIT No. 1 or Air Force No. 1?

Same difference, some might say.

Game of the Week

Niagara plays at RIT on Saturday night in the first Atlantic Hockey league game. The Tigers won their third straight regular-season title last season, but could do little with Niagara.

No surprise there. The Purple Eagles have pretty much owned the Tigers through the years. RIT managed only a tie in three chances against Niagara last season, is winless in the last 11 games between the teams and 0-5-2 against Niagara since moving to Division 1 in 2005.

Atlantic Hockey power ratings

1. RIT -- Tigers have won three straight Atlantic regular-season championships, and four in five years.

2. Air Force -- Falcons own matching four-in-five years mark when it comes to tournament titles.

3. Holy Cross -- Crusaders look to back up third-place finish, semifinal tourney run.

4. UConn -- Huskies, too, turned things around last year and have a bunch of scorers back.

5. Niagara -- Paul Zanette and Bryan Haczyk leave some big skates to fill.

6. Robert Morris -- Nathan Longpre and Denny Urban are gone. See Niagara above.

7. Army--. Junior goalie Ryan Leets leads a team full of seniors.

8. Mercyhurst -- Lakers took some hits from graduation and transfer and have 11 freshmen to lend a hand.

9. Canisius -- Young Golden Griffins will attempt to build off a tournament upset win over Niagara.

10. Bentley -- Scoring on more than 8 percent of its power plays would help offensive numbers.

11. Sacred Heart -- Pioneers hope to rediscover the magic that led them to a second-place finish and the league championship game in 2009-10.

12. AIC -- Yellow Jackets try again to escape the Atlantic Hockey cellar. They’ve been a point out of next-to-last each of the last two seasons.

Allen Lessels can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.